Americans across the country on Monday celebrated Juneteenth, a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
While George Washington publicly denounced the slave trade on moral grounds in the Fairfax Resolves, the American slave of which he so gallantly spoke wouldn’t actually celebrate their freedom until 19 June 1866 — 1 day, two weeks, and 90 years after everyone else. In fact, a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of American slaves wasn’t created until 2021, a couple hundred years and change after some 56 signatories signed the Declaration of Independence.
Mass shootings and violence erupted across the country last weekend including 4 killed in Idaho; 6 shootings in Wisconsin; 11 in Missouri; 60 in Illinois. Juneteenth gatherings across the United States left 12 dead altogether and more than 100 injured.
More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most agree the institution of slavery has and continues to shape America today. Four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and Black people in particular are skeptical they’ll ever achieve equality, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Moreover, nearly all Americans say it’s unlikely that the country known as "A Nation of Immigrants" will ever achieve Racial Equity.
Racial Equity is achieved when race no longer factors into or determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes. Though the ultimate goal of racial equity may be equality, the road to achieving equity cannot be accomplished simply through treating everyone equally. It is achieved by treating everyone equally — according to their circumstances.
Myths of Equality
The Thirteen American Colonies were reluctant to form a union in 1776. Each were operating as a self appointed sovereign nation. Where they agreed was on the word 'equality,' and their collective independence from Great Britain. Originally drafted as instruction for Virginia's delegates to the Continental Congress in 1774, Thomas Jefferson's pamphlet begins circulating throughout the Thirteen Colonies and stirs consensus. It begins:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration of Independence is signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, and the Articles of Confederation, effectively the first U.S. Constitution, begins drafting the nation’s moral code into law the following year.
While the first U.S. national government came into force under the Articles of Confederation adopted in 1781, the document itself said nothing about slavery, instead leaving the power to regulate slavery to the individual states. Each and all had encoded indentured servitude and slavery into their state constitutions in 1776.
Ninety years on, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas on June 19, 1965 to enforce the emancipation of its enslaved population and oversee Reconstruction. Ordinances were posted in public places, including the Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
Abraham Lincoln’s EO The Emancipation Proclamation (January 1863) freed southern slaves to fight for the union. It is the deciding factor in the American Civil War (May 1865); enshrines the Thirteenth Amendment into the U.S. Constitution (December 1865); and ensures Juneteenth's first celebration in Galveston Texas the following year (June 19, 1866).
Yet despite Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday in 2021, nearly 243 years of cultural economic, physical, legal, and political inequity against Black Americans in particular has proven to be a difficult bell to unring. Fact: Wealth disparity, poverty rates, bankruptcy, housing patterns, educational opportunities, unemployment, incarceration and mortality rates among Blacks are disproportionate for a nation that prides itself on equality.
It’s defined as “the total value of things families own minus their debts” and a study at Brandeis University — who followed the same sets of families for 25 years — recently found racial disparity in wealth across the United States. In fact, the wealth gap between Caucasian and Black families they followed nearly tripled over 25 years, from $85K in 1984 to $236K in 2009. The study concluded that factors contributing to the inequality included years of home ownership (27%), household income (20%), education (5%), and familial financial support and/or inheritance (5%).
Nearly 70% of all Black adults queried in a AP-NORC poll recently said, “a lot needs to be done to close the pay gap for African Americans,” but the income inequality in the United States today might shock even the enslavers of the Old South.
Asian Americans, as it happens, have the highest median income in America today, followed by White Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans. Blacks earn on average 60% of White workers, according to the Economic Report of the President. Asian American earn upwards of 110% of their caucasian colleagues and beyond.
However, there are congruencies among women. The highest median incomes go to fairer Asian and White women who’re concentrated in professional, executive and managerial occupations across all sectors, according to the EROP. While the darker skinned Hispanic and Black women dominate manufacturing jobs, retail accommodations and the service industry.
While Juneteenth celebrations are new in many parts of the country, in Memphis, where the slave trade once thrived, equestrian statues of slave traders and Confederate generals have been removed to fete the day, and more than 160 monuments and memorials honoring the Confederate States of America and associated figures have been removed from public spaces across the nation since 2015.
Does airbrushing Confederate Generals from the public square serve American history? Can banning the Critical Race Theory from public schools recast the American story? As Michelle Obama explains, "I am the former First Lady of the United States, and I am also a descendent of slaves. My great grandmother (Melvinia Shields) was in bondage in South Carolina. It's important to keep that truth right there."
Because among the nation’s 333 million people today, only 47.2 million are Black. That's because their mortality rate is higher, 1.63 million times higher relative to White Americans over the last two decades. According to a recent study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, “the high mortality rates among Black people have less to do with genetics than with the country’s long history of discrimination, which has undermined educational, housing, and job opportunities for generations of Black people.”
Equality is the soul of liberty, and even though the Father of the Nation ordered all 123 of his personal slaves free upon he and Martha Washington's death — casting them all rather suddenly from Mount Vernon on May 22, 1802 to scramble for housing, labor, healthcare and education on their own — providing a reference, job, scholarship, loan, or even a sack lunch for the road might have been the more American thing to do.